If we think of the global economy as a living organism, the supply chain network is its circulatory system. Over the past decades, logistics has become complex, leading companies worldwide to become obsessed with technology.
The cold chain logistics industry stands out because technological solutions heavily influence it. Different types of logistics software solve or prevent problems once thought unavoidable, from preventing damage to perishable goods to visibility tracking.
What is a cold chain?
The history of cold chains goes back to 1797 when British fishermen used ice to preserve their catch. In 1938, Frederick Jones invented a portable air-cooled box for wagons carrying perishable foods. During World War II, similar crates were needed by the military to transport and preserve blood, medicine, and food in hospitals and on the battlefield.
A cold chain is a continuous flow of a specific thermal profile in the production, packaging, and transportation of temperature-sensitive goods. In other words, a cold chain is a supply chain with strict temperature controls. Its successful operation requires a stable sequence of refrigerated production, packaging, storage, transportation, and distribution. Maintaining the cold chain requires a clear understanding and control of transportation circumstances, packaging parameters, delivery times, and all critical points from the beginning to the end of the entire process.
Cold chain management is integral to maintaining a certain level of temperature and air variables, including oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity. Any failure in the cold chain management process, including transit, handling, storage, and deposition, will likely result in product spoilage and financial loss. The proper temperature and production environment are critical in the supply chain for all parties, from the producer to the end consumer.
What problems can cold chain software solve?
According to reports published by Bayer and Deloitte, cold chain management is increasingly becoming a data-driven operation. Remarkably, globally, since COVID-19 was enacted, supply chain models created with automation, robotics, and data analytics have proven to be optimal for making effective decisions.
Various cold chain logistics software options connected to the intelligent sensor, tag, push pads, and gateway systems offer solutions for overcoming hard chain management challenges. They generate real-time reports on temperature fluctuations, which is critical for preserving perishable products. These solutions can be used throughout the supply chain to provide end-to-end visibility into food, from the production stage to when consumers pick it up.
Cold chain logistics software directly solves the following problems:
- Risk of losses and shortages. Cold chain applications can prevent outages by reporting temperature changes in real time. This enables logistics managers to respond quickly to avoid spoilage, preserve quality and alleviate the effects of food waste.
- Food safety. With a system of tags, sensors, and pressure sensors, cold chain logistics software enables effective monitoring of the entire product lifecycle.
- Industry regulation. Data-driven cold chain logistics solutions collect detailed and accurate data. This allows for reliable administration, timely record keeping, and a low risk of human error in compliance.
- Food fraud. This is essentially the intentional substitution of food for illegal products. Cold chain solutions can be programmed to send alerts for any unwanted changes. This reduces the likelihood of fraud.
Preventing damage to perishable goods
Regarding transporting perishable products, there are specific logistical requirements in terms of demand, packaging, and delivery times in conjunction with particular types of equipment. Transportation costs for cold chain products are significantly higher than for standard commodities, resulting in an increased risk of financial loss.
Fortunately, cold chain logistics software allows businesses to provide a high level of control over perishable goods throughout the supply chain. Essentially, it always comes down to ensuring that temperature control is maintained at the required level.
Using a sensor system, technical solutions monitor the temperature on the following types of cold chain equipment:
- Isothermal equipment. They have insulating walls that limit the heat exchange between the inside and outside product containers.
- Refrigeration equipment. They reduce the internal temperature, keeping it at the right level between -20ºC and 30ºC.
- Freezers. A cold production mechanism to lower the internal temperature in large empty spaces, keeping it constant from -12ºC to -20ºC.
An innovative and technical approach to the cold chain
The technology is available to businesses that want to improve their cold chain – it just needs to be used correctly. Chaotic adoption of technology can lead to increased deterioration, reduced efficiency, and points of failure. Companies looking to invest in cold chain improvement should leverage innovation after identifying these gaps and translating that knowledge into opportunities.
Smart cold chain logistics solutions
IoT sensors provide companies and their customers with end-to-end visibility throughout the product life cycle in the cold chain. They provide real-time data on all aspects: location, temperature, humidity, weather conditions, traffic congestion, estimated delivery time, border control, and warehouse capacity. Businesses can avoid losses before they occur by responding in real-time to disruptions and taking advantage of supply chain control. In fact, this data is essential for identifying weaknesses and setting the stage for a solid and stable cold chain.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are hot trends in the cold chain world. They can interpret data collected by IoT sensors, generated by GPS trackers, package data loggers, and manually enter data. AI and O.D. applications review and analyze data to enable effective decision-making. They provide data-driven tools with the insights needed to find gaps, reduce waste, maximize financial value, and identify hidden points of failure in the supply chain.
Blockchain is an immutable, secure data ledger used to store, protect and share basic product data. It can be used as a single source of information about a product and its movement through the supply chain. All participants in the chain can access your blockchain, gaining full visibility and traceability of products at every stage of the lifecycle. For businesses operating stable cold chains, providing this data to customers helps gain their trust and loyalty.
Losing product visibility and condition in the cold chain
As IBM notes, supply chain visibility is the ability for stakeholders to view real-time information related to storage, shipment processes, and possible supply chain failures. The lack of visibility during B2B operations is a significant challenge.
However, real-time electronic data interchange (EDI) helps maintain control over multiple logistics systems. Based on artificial intelligence, allows businesses to make quicker queries to speed up the resolution of delivery problems. In particular, cold chain logistics solutions help reduce the time it takes to fix failures from days to hours. Reliable, data-driven insights can open up opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This can help you provide secure, advanced data sharing and real-time visibility to current stakeholders, suppliers, and customers while providing traceability and immutability via blockchain.
Consolidating drivers into one system
Cold chain logistics can sometimes become too comprehensive to keep track of. As a business grows, it often has to deal with dozens of parallel transport lines, vehicles, and drivers. In such a situation, there is a critical need to see the big picture rather than individual operations.
To provide that vision, companies use the Consolidation Management System (CMS), an integrated transportation monitoring suite that tracks the status of cargo at each allocated stage along with the status of the vehicle. For example, current truckload, cargo status at the destination, speed limits, transport document tracking, and administration.
In practice, CMS provides a non stop flow of data commensurate with the required standards. If a delivery is late or the cold chain is disrupted (for example, the indoor temperature is higher than needed), the system flags such occurrences and brings them to the attention of the decision-maker. As a result, supply chain operators don’t need to examine every specific delivery route but rather focus on the incidents brought to their attention by the CMS system.
Displaying any incidents that occur during the journey
Preventing cold chain violations is one of the main responsibilities of a logistics manager. Violations of the cold chain can cause various problems, such as premature spoilage of goods, loss of organoleptic qualities, and the appearance of harmful bacteria, which spread faster in a relatively warm environment.
Unwanted incidents can occur at any stage of the cold chain: loading, storage, transportation, distribution, and sale. For each of these, there are logistical solutions that must constitute a full circle of control. In the cold chain, loading and unloading must be done as quickly as possible to avoid temperature fluctuations. The same goes for the other stages, where temperature and the rest of the variables must be monitored at all times.
A cold chain logistics solution that provides comprehensive control over the entire shipment process is the Multi-Carrier Shipping Software. It integrates with the company’s computer system to keep track of all incidents. It also includes order processing, shipment tracking, and delivery verification.
The driver is out of sight
Transportation itself is perhaps the most accident-prone part of the supply chain. There are many potential hazards that drivers have to deal with when they hit the road. Therefore, it is vital for companies to make sure that their employees or contractors have as few obstacles as possible in delivering goods, especially in a cold chain environment.
Cold-chain managers have begun using GPS-based solutions to monitor the well-being of drivers. Such software can also flag undesirable occurrences, such as driving too fast or not using seat belts. The resulting data provides a solid basis for developing corrective action plans, which is especially useful for growing companies that manage large fleets of trucks.
Creating a sustainable cold chain is a challenge. There’s no easy way to keep its various phases under complete control, especially in the case of complex supply chains.
Cold chain logistics solutions are complex, and it often needs to be clarified what impact they can have. However, as companies rush to use such software, many gain enormous benefits by controlling the entire cold chain. If anyone is still hesitant, there is no doubt that the time for change is now. Hard chain development is a direct response to it.